Sir Alex Ferguson is giving increased consideration to starting Manchester United's title defence with Tom Cleverley in the centre of midfield because of the form that has now elevated him into the England squad before making a single start for his club.
Cleverley's introduction for Michael Carrick at half-time of Sunday's Community Shield against Manchester City helped United turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 win and persuaded Fabio Capello to call him up for the friendly against Holland on Wednesday.
The opening occurred because Carrick has withdrawn with an achilles injury while Jack Wilshere is also injured. Capello was impressed with Cleverley's drive and enthusiasm and is aware that Ferguson sees a role for the player this season despite United's ongoing attempts to bring in another central midfielder, predominantly Wesley Sneijder of Internazionale.
Sneijder's admission that Inter have told him he can leave the San Siro follows sustained interest from the Premier League champions, despite repeated denials to the media behind the scenes, and United's lawyers have now been employed to work on the details of his proposed move. Sneijder is open to the idea but, as yet, has not been offered the salary he wants because United have reservations about the huge sums involved for a player who is 27 and would, in effect, have little resale value towards the end of a four- or five-year contract.
While that remains the case, Cleverley is one of the few naturally forward-thinking central midfielders at the club and now appears to have realistic hopes of rounding off the most satisfactory week of his professional life by being involved in Sunday's game at West Bromwich Albion. Ferguson was suitably impressed with the player's contribution at Wembley and acknowledged after the match that he was now faced with a difficult decision when it comes to finalising his team.
While Carrick is regarded as United's best passer of the ball, Cleverley provides a more attacking option, occupying an advanced role at Wembley, with Anderson in a holding position. Ferguson described Cleverley as a "strong possibility" to start the season after an impressive performance in the pre-season friendly against Barcelona in Washington DC, and what he saw at Wembley may have helped to dispel any lingering concerns about whether a player who spent last season on loan at strugglers Wigan Athletic can make the step up.
Cleverley's team-mates have also been impressed by his impact. "I hope he will get a lot of opportunities this season," the defender Patrice Evra said. "You saw [at Wembley] that he is not afraid. He has a lot of energy and Manchester United need a player like this."
Evra added: "He's a quiet lad – he's a bit like Scholesy in that way. He never talks much, he just does his job on the pitch. Players like him are the future and, to win the league, the boss is not going to be afraid to give young players a chance. He knows they can help us to win more titles. That's the United way. It's always been that way."
Ferguson must also decide this week whether he should persist with David de Gea in goal or bring in Anders Lindegaard and give the 20-year-old Spaniard more time to get used to his new surroundings. De Gea made a bad mistake for City's second goal and, though he partially redeemed himself with a couple of good saves in the second half, there is a feeling behind the scenes at Old Trafford that the £18.3m signing may be prone to making more errors in his first few months in England.
Lindegaard was impressive on the pre-season tour of the United States and the Denmark international, speaking before the Community Shield, made it clear he does not want to be De Gea's understudy following his arrival from Atlético Madrid.
"The boss told me when I came that, if you're good enough, you're going to play. The best man plays – that's how it is and how it should be. A lot of people in the media have said that I am here to be No2 but that is not how I see it at all. It's the most attractive goalkeeping job in the world. It's the job everybody wants and I'm no different. I want that job."
Lindegaard was signed from the Norwegian club Aalesund in January for around £3.5m, not even a fifth of the amount United paid Atlético for De Gea, but the 27-year-old does not believe the smaller fee will have any influence on Ferguson's selection during the course of the season. "You have players coming to the club who are not huge signings but still make their way. Chicharito [Javier Hernández] was maybe the best player last season but he wasn't brought in as a huge star. He made his way and he's a real example of how to do it."
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